She glanced at the chronometer beside the bed, and saw that it was in the wee hours of the morning as usual. Sleep deficiency is the least of my problems, she told herself.
Tara stood up, and stretched her arms straight out to the sides. Then she walked into the small closet-style washroom adjacent to the living quarters, and washed her face. It was refreshing, but it only lasted seconds, until those memories returned. memories of the hell that she had lived through, and she knew that she had had no right to survive the carnage that she herself had brought.
Its always going to be my fault , she thought to herself, I alone am responsible.
She sat at the computer terminal, and called up the latest news headlines. The Scree had attacked and decimated another heavily fortified Fleet position. The Fleet had lost twenty mainline ships, and barely managed to destroy three Scree vessels, one a cargo ship. This war is going very badly, she knew. Everyone knew that.
Her tribunal was still in the news after three days, and commentators all agreed that she got off too easy. Tara agreed, she felt that her life should have been forfeit. It will only torment me the more for not being punished for what I did. Tara told herself. She turned off the news reader, and checked her messages.
Her brother on Domascus wrote to tell her that he was glad of the outcome, and to remind her that she always had a place to turn to. She smiled, little comfort for the haunted soul. Jason always was a pal to her. They had grown up buddies, even when other siblings only fought each other. My only supporter, she thought, and mused how she didn't even support herself any longer.
She moved from the terminal back to bed, it was too early not to try and get back to sleep, even when the very thought of sleep is mortifying. It was quick to overtake her as she closed her eyes.
Its starting all over again.
Tara was again directing her troops into battle, on foot against a Scree munitions supply base that was right over a ridge from where they landed the ship.
She waved her three hundred troops forward, marching in four columns toward the enemy supply center. She was holding a laser rifle in one hand and shouting orders at the same time.
As always she felt a violent heat wave and saw her troops being blown to pieces before she ever reacted. The ship was hit at the same time, as Scree fighters swept down and fired their weapons at the almost defenseless position on the surface. The plateau where they stood became a killing ground.
It was her decision that had doomed the entire crew. As the Commander, she ordered them to land without another ship to keep them covered from space. In hindsight it was a foolish choice, but it had been made. That would not be changed.
Tara again woke up, and saw that it was daylight when she opened her eyes. She sat up and noticed that her white top was soaking wet. It always was in the morning, after the incident. She stood up, and stripped off her sleep-wear and walked into the washroom for the regulation one minute shower. Soon she put her uniform on, Commander the rank marks on the nametag meant, she considered it a dis-honor not to at least have been demoted.
The doctors told her that she was punishing herself, and told the tribunal that she should not be allowed to continue in the Fleet. It was because of her instability. The tribunal could not strip her of her commission since she was not found guilty of anything. They could however just not offer her the Command of another ship. That was three months ago, and she still was not back at her duties. Four and a half months since the incident and she had not even been sent back to a base. Outrageous, but a punishment in a sense. One that she deserved fully.
Commander Tara Simmons walked out of her hovel, and walked to the nearest cafeteria in her area of New York. She was ordered to wear her uniform, even now that she was as close to being a civilian as she was. Eight years in the service and this is my reward, that the entire human race thinks I'm scum, forced to pretend to work, and hate myself to boot. Wonderful. She thought to herself as she stood in line waiting for her breakfast among the civilians too poor to afford an apartment with a kitchenette.
They stared at her when she wasn't looking, that was obvious by the way they started moving again when she looked their way. Once, three weeks ago a woman tried to attack her, yelling about losing a son under her command. The guards were deliberately slow in getting the woman off of her.
Tara had traveled to a different cafeteria for two weeks afterward, missing breakfast altogether for most of that time. Others asked why she did not fight back, she usually ignored them. Once she was feeling especially bad and shot back by saying "Fighting is something I am not too good at"
She sat alone in a far corner of the place, trying to avoid contact with everyone else. Tara could not help reviewing her life, again.
Tara Simmons had joined the Fleet at eighteen, seeking travel and excitement. She also found order and rules which she had sought for a lifetime. It was a life she had wanted and she cherished it. She knew it was not normal for a girl to never fall in love with anything but fighting in war games and the odd pirate.
There were guys, even some men, but she had never loved and never has she been loved. She had always blamed the lax parenting she and her brother received back on Solaris, her home planet. That was why she was enthralled with military service, it provided what her parents had neglected.
Now I am twenty six and washed up She thought to herself, finishing off the orange liquid the Health Authority had the gall to say was Orange Juice. Real orange juice cost a ton of credits here on Earth. This was some concoction of who-knows-what.
What a crazy life She told herself again as she dumped the trash into the recycling receptacles, and began the walk home. Home? Home was a place she had never known, and probably never will.
Entering her little apartment she quickly unzipped the drab gray uniform, and looked at her terminal and saw that a new message had been recieved. She sat to read it.
TO: Commander Simmons, Tara 095482901-A
FROM: Fleet Regional Command Center, Domascus
Admiral Huskins, John R. 109238452-C
Commander Simmons is ordered to be present, by Admiral Huskins for new mission briefing. 0700 hrs-12-2-2198.
The Bolivia leaves Earth Tonight for Domascus. Last scheduled ship for week. Please be on it.
Signed Admiral Huskins
Tara could hardly believe what she was reading. She could easily make the Bolivia, having almost no gear to store, and her brother would be getting a hug in person. Good timing, she thought. I only wished I deserved it.
Tara Simmons easily made the transport shuttle to the Bolivia, and was un-nerved that she was still getting those rude looks from everyone who recognized her from the news programs. They had already reported that she had been booked on a flight to Domascus, they didn't know why, yet.
Her brother had gotten her message and had replied how delighted he was to get to see his younger sister again in person. She knew that he meant it, but still....
As the vessel left Earth orbit and was preparing to warp space once outside the Sol system, Tara took a short tour of the ship. She met its Commander, one Ralph DeFazio. He did not look at her as if she had killed her crew on purpose, and didn't seem to be angry.
"I understand that in a war, bad decisions of command costs lives. That is war, commanders cannot be blamed for a bad decision. In your shoes I, or any other Commander may have made the same choice. It was your decision to make and you did it, there is no blame to be laid." He had told her, it was what the tribunal had concluded, but he seemed to mean it.
Tara went back to her Spartan quarters after the truncated tour, and saw that it was time to try and get some sleep. She dreaded sleep, it was when the ghosts haunted her conscience, and demanded that she give up what was no longer hers. The dead demanded her life as repayment, but she greedily held onto life.
Tara was tired of those nightmares, and tried to focus on something positive before she slept, maybe it would work for this one night. She thought of her childhood, and how her brother had helped her learn how to fly and land a remotely controlled shuttle toy. It had been the real thing, and they had even put into orbit once as a dare. It burned up on re-entry as the warning on the box had said would happen. The poor mouse in 'Command' didn't stand a chance.
It didn't work, Gamma-5 was back.....
Tara saw the troops under her command being blown apart, they tried to shoot the fighters with laser rifles to no avail. Tara had been terrified and made her way into a crevice, and hid from the maelstrom around her. Oh, sure she took a few shots at the attack fighters as they made run after run against their position, but it was meaningless.
She was showing cowardice in the face of the enemy, even if she did make those shots. That was something she had told herself all these months, even if the tribunal disagreed.
Soon the other ship showed up to be their cover from space, its Commander was mortified that they had actually landed without them. He saw the carnage, and easily took out the Scree Carrier ship in orbit. After that the fighters had nowhere to run, and they were easily dispatched. The supply base was taken out within minutes afterwards.
Tara was found standing and in shock, staring at the blood which littered the battlefield before her. The crew of the second ship and the remnants of hers were trying to sort the bodies and body parts, she could not move to help, she was unable to even speak.
One hundred and thirty four dead men and women, forty seven wounded.
They demanded that she join them as a penance for her mistake.
Tara wondered why the Fleet would even allow an Admiral to even consider putting her back in command of another vessel. It didn't make any sense at all to her.
Domascus was a desert planet, with a very small population. It was also home to the Fleets' top scientific research center and proto-type ship building operation. She had only been there once, after the Incident, and didn't remember much about what she had seen. She had still been in shock.
Too early to go to breakfast, of course. It was always the same routine in the mornings, off with the sweat-soaked sleepwear and a one minute shower. What a life she thought, again.
She sat on the edge of the bed, and decided to try and remember how she had gotten that stupid tattoo when she was twenty three.
She had been with a group of Lt. Commanders at a base on Deplee, a rotted little planet, and had apparently been drinking a little too much. She had woken up in her quarters on the deck, naked with a tattoo of an anchor on her right arm right under the shoulder. There was a handwritten note stuck to screen of her terminal, all it said was Thanks!.
Some officer somewhere must remember me fondly, she thought to herself with a little giggle. Not many laughs for me in the last eight months.
They arrived at the tan-colored planet after a three day trip in warp, and she looked at it from a viewport in the cafeteria. Why would Jason want to live on a world like that?, she asked herself. He was a successful writer, he could live on Vega if he wanted to. Except that Vega was now under territory controlled by the Scree, as was Starrion and Aloure.
Twelve of the twenty four human settled planets were now cut off by the Scree, and they were making sure to bomb the planets back to the stone age without having to actually invade them. The Scree wiped out every vestige of human presence in space, sort of like isolating a disease. The purpose of isolating a disease was to find a cure to destroy that disease.
Last accounts showed that the Scree totally surrounded human occupied space and had began making raids into every human solar system, recon of course. They planned to isolate every human on the planets and then wipe us out. Tara thought to herself.
Commander DeFazio had mentioned that they seemed to regard Domascus as the last of their targets, with its small population and its seeming unimportance.
Soon the shuttles began to land and Tara was brought down outside of the main city, to a small space-port that was actually a slab of concrete with some guidance sensors protruding from the ground around it. She saw her brother waiting for her as she exited the shuttle.
They hugged, making up for a long five years since they had last met. That was at the funeral of their father on Solaris, it was not a happy time of course.
"I missed you" He told her, as he held her at arms length for his inspection. He noticed the tattoo right away and made a face that said "You?!"
"Don't ask" She said with a grin, "What's with the beard?"
"I forgot to shave so often that I decided to let it grow. I think it makes me look like a writer. What do you think?" He asked stroking his beard, and raising his eyebrows.
"You look older than twenty nine, I shall leave it at that." She said, as he led her to his hover vehicle for the ride to his home. He mocked disappointment at her comment, but then smiled.
"Tara, you didn't say why they asked you to come here." He said as the craft lifted off the ground to an altitude of ten feet, and then forward.
"I was not asked, it was an order. I may be getting a new command." She told him. Now he really was disappointed. She could tell.
"Why haven't you quit? I mean after what happened....?" He asked, not really wanting to finish the question.
Tara was silent for a few moments, "I can't quit. It would drive me crazy, it would be unfinished business that I left behind."
The ride to his home was silent after that.
It was a grand three story house, it looked like old fashion wood and shingles. She knew that it wasn't, it was actually a clever design for a high tech home. It was for those who liked it to look older than it was and who could afford the high price. Such a large home for a single man. Tara thought to herself. Neither one of us married, and we are both wayward souls. Way to go Pop.
After a tour of his huge huge home, which sat on 1000 acres that he owned, they sat down for a nice dinner. Pre-prepared, of course. He might write well, but cooking wasn't one his good points. It may also be a reason that he hasn't been married.
"So when are you supposed to meet the Admiral?" Jason asked as he put a spoonful of mashed potatoes into his mouth. Locally grown, and even exported to Earth and the other planets.
"Tomorrow. Early in the morning, can you get me there?" She asked as she bit down on what had to be processed food. Real meat couldn't taste that good, it never did in the military.
"Of course. That hover vehicle is new, made right before they stopped production. The company started making space vehicles for the military. Seems like we are losing worse than it sounds. What do you think, how bad is it?"
She looked up from the meal, and sat her fork down. She looked him in the eyes and said "We are being whipped like schoolkids. We have barely slowed them down, they are doing recon in every sector and we will not be able to stop a full fledge attack. I hear that it may happen in the next few weeks."
"If we don't find a way to stop the Scree- and the Fleet can't... Then we are all dead, and the Scree will have all of our planets and systems." She continued, "We are close to running out of ships, and most of the experienced crews have been killed. What are left are defending the Sol system, and that leaves most of them unprotected, including Domascus."
Jason was dumbfounded, "That bad?"
Tara shook her head in affirmation, "Yes, maybe worse"
"So much for my next novel."
The next morning they were at the base. It was an underground base accessible only by several landing sites covered by huge automatic doors on top. They were ordered to land in the one used by base personel, the parking lot.
Jason had to wait in the Visitors Center as a couple of guards escorted Tara to where Admiral Huskins office was located. They were nervous, and she wondered what had happened to cause that.
She entered the office and began to do an inspection of the place. It tells a lot about a person how they decorate and what with. The man behind the desk seemed to be very patient with her, even smiling to himself as he watched her.
After the look-see she walked up to the desk and stood at attention, "Commander Tara Simmons as ordered, sir."
He motioned to the comfortable looking chair and said "Please sit down, we have a lot to talk about."
She sat in the chair. Just too soft for her taste, as she sat on the edge straight as an arrow. He looked bemused by this sight. He was wondering if she knew how to relax.
For several moments they regarded each other, they already had read up on each other, but some things can't be put on paper.
For a sixtyfour year old he wasn't bad looking, and he was in great shape by the looks of him. She preferred men more her own age though. They cannot by rules be superior, or inferiors in rank. That really cut down on who she saw after she got promoted into command.
This man has been through many battles, and now he was stuck out here. It was literally the last place an enemy would attack, having no discernible strategic value. The real secrets were not discernible.
Admiral Huskins had read the bio and all the news, and neglected to look at any photo's of the Commander. He was suprised at how beautiful she was in person. I'm glad to have her under my command he thought jokingly to himself. He didn't kid himself, this woman had been through hell and he was sure that she was stronger for it. Thats why she was asked to come here.
"I want you to take command of a new ship we have just completed building. It is not an ordinary ship, which is why its here. Its a proto-type, utilizing an entirely new technology. Are you with me so far?" The Admiral asked her.
"Why would the Fleet allow you to choose me?" She asked, "After what happened"
"They are not making this decision, its totally under my authority. You were to be one of a half dozen prospects for this mission, but with recent events ...."
"What events?" She broke in.
"You haven't heard?" He asked, suprised that she wasn't reading her news.
"No, sir. I was visiting my brother, we had a lot to catch up on." She said, and looked at him.
"This morning the Scree attacked ten planetary systems. They were reported to be more than a hundred thousand ships strong, and the Fleet didn't stand a chance against them. Our forces were wiped out" He said, and cleared his throat. He was very saddened by it, judging by his demeanor.
Tara was speechless, to say the least. "Wiped out?"
"We have no warships at this time, Commander" He told her, "We have one in our hangar, the proto-type. Its new technology can rip open space-time and have you from here to any solar system in an instant. An Instant."
Tara was nonplussed. Impossible!, her mind told her, "How?"
Quickley she saw that the Admiral was not kidding and saw a chance for revenge on the Scree. I can get them back for Gamma-5.
"Do you accept this assignment?"
"You do realize that this ship, the Vortex is now our last hope to fight off the Scree? I wish you all the luck in the galaxy Commander. You will need it." He said and he stood up, and saluted her.
Tara also stood up, and saluted back. No superior had ever shown her that much respect, and she was then to be escorted to the Vortex for a quick tour.
Those demons inside want her blood, not that of the Scree, Tara knew.
Floyd Geron Looney is twenty five years old and doesn't do much of anything except read and write science fiction. He has never published anything (except a letter to the editor, and jokes about a public-financed sports arena), mostly because he has never tried.
He wants to make low budget films, in his home-town/region of Dallas-Ft.Worth. He lives in Irving and is proud of being a Texan, except that he seems to like Canadian women. (darned fate!) Although he has been writing 'for himself' since he was a youngster, this is his first attempt at getting a story published. It is a prequel to another story that is coming along after being erased in a accident allegedly involving a twelve year old.
His E-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org
He very eagerly awaits comments and criticism alike. (especially from young available women) "I am 6 foot 3, and would make a nice mate for ....."
His webpage is located at http://www.geocities.com/Area51/Chamber/7931/arvega.html
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